A chat with author Cathy Donnelly

Today the Conclave is delighted to welcome a new author to talk to us. Cathy Donnelly is of Scottish origins but now lives in Australia. She is the author of books Distant Whispers and There is a place.

Cathy M. Donnelly

Welcome to the Conclave, Cathy.

First of all, would you like to tell us how you came to start writing?

Thank you for inviting me Millie.

My grandfather gave me novels to read when I was a child. I got my love of storytelling from those. I would make up stories to tell my friends on the walk to school and then write them down later, and I always looked forward to English class when we were required to write a story. Over the years I have written short stories and meditations, but it was always my dream to write novels.

 

Your first book is a historical novel that takes the reader through the ages. Are these periods in history that you know well? Did it require a lot of research?

Because Distant Whispers has the theme of reincarnation it gave me the flexibility to include periods in history that I have read a lot about. I set the first part of the story in 17th century England, which was filled with many interesting events and characters, and with the second part, which takes place in the present day, I was able to flow back in history to other periods that interested me. I got great enjoyment from weaving Rachel’s story through various centuries.

I am very interested in the history of Alexander the Great and the Knights Templar, so I have read a lot about the times and events surrounding them. This provided great material, especially with the Templars whose history is extensive and intriguing – lots of theories, secrets and legends. It was easy for me to include scenes with both Alexander and the Templars in Distant Whispers because of the past lives element.

There was a great deal of research involved but I feel it is essential to be as accurate as possible when writing historical fiction. There are exceptions of course. There are occasions when I have taken a legend, often disputed by historians, and incorporated it into the storyline. I believe, however, that is why legends are so fascinating. Who is to know for certain if they are true or not? I also like to find a little known fact about a character or a certain period and weave it into my stories.

Fortunately I absolutely love researching. I get lost in it and sometimes have to drag myself away just to get some words on paper.

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Tell us more about the concept of reincarnation in Distant Whispers.

With Distant Whispers the ending came to me first so the story had to take place in more than one lifetime of the same person. I am fascinated by this concept so I enjoyed playing around with different periods in history to tell Rachel’s story. It mainly takes place in her lifetimes in 1665 in England and present day Australia, but to deepen the reincarnation theme I included flashbacks to her lives in 323BC, 1398 and 1854.

Some people believe in reincarnation and others not, but there are many who believe in the possibility that our spirit does not die with our body and we will live again in mortal form. Although fiction, I like to think my story will entertain those who believe in reincarnation, perhaps give comfort to those who would like to believe in it, and also give some thought for contemplation to those who do not.

 

Now, in There is a Place, we seem to have a more classic style of historical novel, one that rests in the same time period throughout – is that correct?

The main part of the story takes place in Scotland from the famous Battle of Flodden in 1513 to the year 1548 when, as a child, Mary Queen of Scots was sent to France for her safety. The history of the period is seen through the eyes of Michael who, after tragedies in his life, becomes a monk on the island of Inchmahome.

There is a time-slip element to the later part of the story which is set in same location but in the year 2010.

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What drew you to that period?

So much happened in that period of Scottish history. There was the death of King James IV, the unhappy childhood, two marriages and death of James V, the birth and death of two princes and the birth of Mary, Queen of Scots. There were battles and alliances, intrigues and betrayals. A compelling period.

 

How did it feel writing about your native Scotland? It is a place of legends and turbulent history – did all of this inspire your writing?

It certainly does inspire me. I love writing about Scotland. I go back to visit my family (and do research) every three years and there is just something magical about the place. And yes, its history was turbulent. No-one could ever say we are a boring nation. There are so many stories to be told and I am sure there will more Scottish novels for me to write.

 

Are all the places you describe real or imagined?

All the places are real. The story is set mainly on the beautiful island of Inchmahome on the Lake of Menteith. The Augustinian priory was built there in 1238 and was still in use in the time of There is a Place. Although now mostly ruins, great effort has gone into its upkeep and on the occasions I visited there I could easily imagine Michael and the monks walking to the church or working in the gardens.scotland-528449_1920

Many of the scenes take place at Alloa Tower which was built in 1368. It is the ancestral home of the Erskine family and the Earls of Mar and Kellie, who have been prominent figures throughout Scotland’s history. They fought at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and also for Joan of Arc in France. The Tower is in wonderful condition and, as with Inchmahome, I could imagine my characters wandering around the place.

Michael also ventures outside Scotland – he walks the Camino Way and visits France.

 

Obviously, you live in the present day, but did you try to put something of yourself into the characters in the story?

I think all writers do in some way, whether it is conscious or not. With me it may be traits I have or wish I had. I think there will be occasions when a character’s reaction is based on how I would feel or react to certain situations. In the editing process I did come across some reactions that I realised were more to do with me than the character so I had to temper that.

What do you hope readers will take from your work?

I hope they will love the characters and journey with them through the stories. Perhaps they may learn something about those who have gone before them. I would be content if at the end they said ‘I really enjoyed that story’ and that it stayed with them for a while. If they hoped that I would write a sequel or a novel along a similar theme, then that would be wonderful.

Your work is a mix of historical fiction and fantasy. What kind of books do you like to read yourself? Any titles in particular that stand out for you?

I enjoy historical novels around the periods I write about and stories that have a mystical or supernatural element. If I pick up a book and the blurb on the back mentions ancient secrets, secret societies, intriguing legends, then I am usually hooked.

Among my favourite novels are Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons but Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is the ultimate novel for me. I have read it twice and watched the movie three times. There are not enough words to express how enchanted I am by this book. It left a lasting impression on me.

Another book I have read countless times is The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. I keep this by my bed.

What’s next? Are you planning another novel?

I have a few things on the go. I have started a rough outline for a sequel to my first novel Distant Whispers and I have almost completed a compilation of short stories based on Hawk, one of the characters in Distant Whispers. He is a Native American and meets my main character, Rachel, in one of her lifetimes in the 14th century and continues to be her guide through her other lifetimes. I also have an idea for another Scottish historical novel. There is bound to some sort of mystical or supernatural element involved.

I continue to write short stories (there are a couple on my website) and I am working on a project based on Norse mythology.

Cathy, thank you so much for a very interesting interview. You make me want to visit beautiful Scotland!

Cathy’s books are available here:

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A talk with author Ruth Kozak

Today we are delighted to welcome author Ruth Kozak to the Conclave.

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W. Ruth Kozak is a Canadian travel journalist with a strong interest in history and archaeology. A frequent traveller, Ruth lived for several years in Greece and instructs classes in travel journalism and creative writing. A travel writer since 1982, Ruth also edits and publishes her own on-line travel zine at www.travelthruhistory.com Her ATHENS AND BEYOND e-book for Hunter Publishing, US was published in Nov 2015 on Kindle and she is currently working on one EXPLORING THE GREEK ISLANDS.

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Ruth’s novel with her Empowered Writer Award

Ruth’s first historical fiction novel SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON (Volume One) was published July 2014 by www.mediaaria-cdm.com UK. This is her first published literary work. Volume Two BLOOD ON THE MOON: THE FIELDS OF HADES will be produced in 2016. SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON is currently available on Amazon.com and in bookstores.

reading the the grade nine class at the Athens Community School
Ruth at a reading with the 9th grade class at Athens Community school

Ruth is a member of the Federation of BC Writers, The Canadian Author’s Association and is President of the BC Association of Travel Writers. She also instructs writing classes and presents workshops and readings.

 

Welcome to the Conclave, Ruth. It is an honour to have you with us. First of all, why not tell us about Shadow of the Lion.

When Alexander the Great, King of Macedon and conqueror of Asia, dies suddenly under suspicious circumstances at the age of 33 in Babylon, everyone who lives in his shadow is affected. As the after-shocks of Alexander’s death bring disorder to his Empire from Macedon to Persia, a deadly power struggle beings over who will rule. SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON begins with Alexander’s death in Babylon and the birth of his only legitimate heir Alexander IV (Iskander) who becomes joint-king with Alexander’s mentally challenged half-brother Philip Arridaios. Volume One is the journey of the kings from Babylon to Macedon. Volume Two THE FIELDS OF HADES, which is due out in September, covers the wars of Alexander’s Successors and the women who dominated his life including his mother, Olympias, and his niece Adea-Eurydike resulting in the tragic end of Alexander’s dynasty.

Statue of Alexander on Bucephalus at Thessaloniki
Statue of Alexander on Bucephalus, in Thessaloniki

Interesting that you should start with the aftermath of Alexander; others before you have concentrated on the man himself and his empire. What drew you to that period in history?

I first became fascinated with Alexander in a history class at school when I was 16 years old. By the end of high school I had written my first Alexander-themed novel. It wasn’t until 1979 that I first visited Greece, ending up going there to live during the ‘80s and from 1993, part time while I wrote SHADOW.

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Artist’s impression of ancient Babylon

How did you research it, and have you endeavoured to be as historically accurate as possible?

This is historical fiction, but it follows a historical time-line so I wanted to be as accurate as possible. I did a great deal of research early on in libraries, but once I started to travel and live in Greece I did more research on sites as well as with the help of Classical scholars, the Greek Ministry of Culture, the Finnish Institute and other sources.

Do you see this as a continuation of your travel writing?

Yes, I actually combined a lot of my research trips with travel writing. In 1993 I had a major story published in the Montreal Gazette about My Search for Alexander which included some of my research trips.

I think the two go together very well. Do you find it more difficult to write about a history that you have not experienced directly, rather than a lived travel experience?

I believe if you are going to write a historical novel you need to try and visit the places you

Ruth in Egypt
Ruth in Egypt

 

are writing about to get a sense of the country, geography etc. Of course I couldn’t visit ancient Babylon (Baghdad) so I had to do lots of research. I did try to get to as many locations as I could and missed my chance to get to Syria. Eventually in 2014 I got to Alexandria, Egypt while on a travel writer’s tour.

That sounds amazing. What a wonderful place for a writer’s tour. I imagine that this way it will be easier to picture the places and make them come alive for your readers. Have you put yourself into the story?

I tried to ‘tag’ various characters with people I had observed to give them a realistic take so I did a lot of observations and note-taking. Also, as you say, by visiting the ancient sites I was able to use my imagination to ‘put myself there’. I felt very connected with the characters in my story and let them lead me through. And I always felt that Alexander’s spirit was very close by.

bust of Alexander
Bust of Alexander

That sounds very positive and interesting. What do you hope readers will take from Shadow of the Lion?

I hope that readers of SHADOW OF THE LION will get a clearer impression of what life was like in those days, what Alexander meant to the world of his time, and therefore gain a better knowledge of the ancient history.

That’s pretty succinct, and very intriguing too. So, tell us what else you have in store for us? What’s your next project?

Because of the length of the manuscript, the publisher decided to make it into two volumes, so SHADOW OF THE LION: THE FIELDS OF HADES will be out later this year. Meanwhile I revived another novel I had set aside while writing SHADOW. This is a Celtic tale, first person, in the voice of a young Druid’s girl who is kidnapped by a renegade chieftain and ends up at the border of Ilyria/Macedon rescued by a young hunter, Alexander. It comes from an idea that because I knew so much about those times perhaps I had once lived then, so it’s almost like a past-life regression story. DRAGONS IN THE SKY links the Celts and the Greeks.

I am also currently working on another e-book guide for Hunter Publishing, US about the Greek Islands.

I look forward to your story of the Greeks and Celts, a subject I am also interested in. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us today.

Thank you, it has been a pleasure.

It has been a most enjoyable interview. We wish you every success with Shadow of the Lion and your other projects.

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Shadow of the Lion: Bloood on the Moon is available here:

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Athens and Beyond travel guide:

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Interview with Author Liz Doran

Today at the Conclave we are talking to Liz Doran, author of the newly released novel Where she Belongs. Welcome to the Conclave, Liz.

Hi everyone. Thank you very much for your invitation.12920895_10208969400177058_1996403658_n

Let’s get started. Tell us something about your book.

Where She Belongs is about an Irish woman who decides to return to her homeland after life with her Spanish husband becomes unbearable. After the recession hit Spain, her husband, Javier, has fallen into an abyss of depression and is threatening to drag her down with him. To save them both, and in an attempt to gain control of her life, make a new start and finally follow her own dreams, she has to make the cut. With a mixture of sadness and anticipation, she moves back to Ireland, rents a house by the sea, and has a fortuitous meeting with Maggie who runs a craft boutique.

At first everything runs smoothly. Maggie offers her a job and people are more than kind. Too good to be true? The last thing on her mind is another man. But then she meets Tom, the irresistible Irish man. When Javier, her Spanish husband, follows her and tries to woo her back, what does she do? After perfect beginnings where she meets some of the helpful and colourful characters who live there, things begin to get complicated. The first cracks appear on the façade. Why is her old neighbour, Mrs. Walsh, being threatened? What is she afraid of? Why are people suspicious of Maggie, her new friend and boutique owner? And what is love anyway?

It sounds very intriguing! A lot going on in your story. Where did the idea come from?

I was working on a Supernatural/Mystery novel and got stuck in the plot somewhere around 170 pages, so I decided to try something different.

You tell a tale of an expat and a search for identity. As an expat yourself, are you putting yourself in the story?

Yes, I probably am. Although the novel and the characters are completely fictional, I think it is often difficult for certain people to completely find their place in the world. I know a lot of people who have moved borders and, while some have the ability to feel at home no matter where they are, others will always be searching. It’s like straddling different worlds. I’ve lived in the USA for five years and in Germany for over twenty-five years, with several months in London and Tuscany. I think people basically want the same type of things, and I’ve attempted to address that aspect of searching in my novel. It is particularly relevant now with the huge fluctuation of people being forced to leave their home countries.

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Very true, sadly. I must say I am interested n how you explore that inner search, as someone who also knows how it feels to live abroad.

Now, going back to your novel. I detect a hint of mystery and romance in the story. Is this an important element?

Oh yes! This is why it was difficult for me to classify it in a particular genre, which answers your next question. It’s all about longing and how it is almost impossible to plan what happens to us. We might go searching for one thing, only to find something completely different.

Do you feel that your book fits into a particular genre?

I think Contemporary Women’s Fiction is the most appropriate genre for my book.

That is a very broad category. But it might help to appeal to other women. What other things have you written? Tell us about any other work.

I’ve written oodles of poems, some funny, some quirky, some thoughtful. At some stage I’d like to publish a collection of my poems. I’ve also contributed a short story to an Anthology of Short Stories called You’re Not Alone.

This project was the brain child of Ian Moore of the most supportive Indie Author Support and Disscussion Group, of which I’m a member. IASD for short. All proceeds go to the Pamela Winton tribute fund in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support for the MacMillan Charity. I’ve also contributed a poem for another Children’s Anthology for Charity. The charity has yet to be decided upon, but I believe it will be out sometime this year.

Did you choose to self-publish your own novel? If so, why?

Yes, I chose to self-publish. Having read a lot of information on the new face of publishing, I decided that if I have to do most of the marketing myself anyway, I’d rather keep the reins in my own hands. I have never sent queries to an agent or a publisher, although I did have one in mind–I think she would have been perfect for my book. Perhaps other authors might understand. When you’ve spent so long getting your novel in good shape, you don’t want to wait another couple of years before it hits the shelves.

I can certainly relate to that! Now, let’s hear a little bit more about you as a person. What kind of books do you like to sit down and read yourself?

I like mystery, supernatural, women’s fiction, thrillers, humour. I don’t generally read horror or fantasy, although I have read The Lord of the Rings and loved the Harry Potter films, the ones I’ve seen. I also read a lot of non-fiction and love a good auto-biography.

Are there any authors in particular that stand out for you?

12953019_10208969093409389_97859284_oAmy Tan. I loved One Hundred Secret Senses. Amy is so smart with great wit and insight.

Gregory David Roberts: I absolutely loved Shantaram. The writing was exquisite and there was never a dull moment.

Elizabeth Strout: Olive Kitteridge.

Deborah Muggoch: Tulip Fever.

Howard Spring: My Son, My Son. I read that when I was about seventeen and loved it.

Anne Rice: Interview with a Vampire.

Jane Austin. Well, she’s just the best!

Maud Montgomery: I’m revisiting the world of Anne of Green Gables with a German friend. What appears to be a simple story is really quite amazing.

Stephen King: Although I said I don’t read Horror, I think he’s a fantastic storyteller. I particularly liked The Stand and wouldn’t consider it horror. He didn’t kill all his darlings though.

Phil Rickman: The Merrily Watkins Mysteries.

Julia Cameron: Very inspiring. The Artist’s Way

Joseph O’Connor: Star of the Sea. I really enjoyed it.

Phillip Marlowe. I read a lot of his stories when I first came to Germany. He entertained me for days.

And so many more I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

Well that is quite a good list. Some old favourites on there for me too. What’s next? Are you planning a new project

Yes, I’m working on a novel I started a couple of years ago. It’s set in present day, but has some mystery, supernatural, romance and historical elements. It is loosely based on a true event and a real place. It drifts from the present to the past, almost like two books in one. I really like it!

Thank you for being here today, Liz. I wish you every success with your novel and of course any further works to come.

Where she Belongs is available here:

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The Short Story Lady

Here at the Conclave we talked to Carol Ferro, known as the Short Story Lady, about her work and her stories.

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Thankyou for being here, Carol. Now, to start with, you call yourself the ‘Short Story Lady’. What does that mean?

I love short stories, be they traditional fairytales or snippets of observational prose. I am also only 5 feet tall, so the name ‘Short Story Lady’ is a dangling modifier, as both the stories and the storyteller are short!

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Very clever! I do like plays on language like that. Let’s hear more about your work. Tell us about your book “Memoirs of a Madcap Cyclist”. What made you write a full-length book? Do you see it as a departure from your short story work, or its progression?

“Memoirs of a Madcap Cyclist” is a collection of 100 stories, each exactly 100 words long, 12442773_579105965579451_400392435_nall on the topic of cycling. I wrote it because I wanted to combine my love of cycling with my tendency to narrate my life. Most of the stories are based on things I noticed while out on my bike, memories of childhood cycling, and tales collected from my cyclist friends. It’s very much a progression of my short story work, taking the short story genre to its logical conclusion. I enjoyed working to an exact word count, it was interesting making each word  matter in each story.

100 times 100 words! How intriguing. What do you hope readers will take from it?

I hope readers will find the book fascinating, entertaining and edifying in equal measure. All aspects of cycling are in there, from balance bikes to racing trikes, green lights to green tarmac, there’s something in there for everyone. It’s a window into my cycling experience, and while I might not be the fastest cyclist on the road, I definitely have fun on the bike.

It sounds like fun! Did you choose to go with a traditional publisher?

I actually teamed up with another local storyteller called Sharon Richards, who wanted to move into publishing. She set up her own publishing company and I wrote its first title, “Drabble Folk and Fairytales” to get the ball rolling. It was a steep learning curve for both of us, but having self-published my first book as an ebook gave me the confidence to make the move into print. I formatted several books for Sharon, getting far more “hands-on” than I would have been able to with a larger or more established publisher.

The publishing sounds like an adventure in itself. Quite a daunting prospect! I am glad to see it hasn’t put you off. Tell us about other work you have written.

My first book is a self-published Young Adult novella called “The Strangeling’s Tale”. Each chapter is a self-contained story which weaves into a larger tale, reaching a gripping conclusion. Transformation, love, loss, bravery and sacrifice abound in this gem of a book.

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My Second book, “Drabble Folk and Fairy Tales”, contains all the fairytales you’ll remember from childhood, a few you won’t have heard of and a few I made up myself. A Drabble is a story containing exactly 100 words, and this book has 100 of them.

Another 100 times 100! I spot a recurring theme here. What is your next project? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a prequel to “The Strangeling’s Tale”, but I keep getting distracted by storytelling bookings at schools, libraries and events. It’s tough being in such demand, but I can’t let my public down! My next big project is an event at local libraries to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth. I’m in charge of co-ordinating all the storytelling, craft activities, quizzes and costumes, and chasing ever elusive funding streams. Still, if it’s anything like as popular as my previous library events, the libraries will be buzzing with activity.

I must say that sounds like a lot of fun and I wish you every success with it. Thankyou for sharing your story with us.

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Carol’s work is available here

And you can find out more about her life as the Short Story Lady here

Interview with Author Jenny O’Brien

Today we are delighted to host an interview with Jenny O’Brien, the author of Ideal Girl and Boy Brainy. Welcome, Jenny!

Hi, thanks for inviting me on to your blog.

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When did you start writing? Or have you always done so?

I’ve been writing for about six years. While I always wanted to write a book I never really thought any more about it, that is until I came up with the name Daii Monday,  the main character in Boy Brainy. The story started from there.

Have you written other novels/works that have not been published?

I have outlines but not finished products. I have two more books in my head that I’m keen to get started on, but I’m concentrating on the books in hand before I start anything else.

What inspired you to write Ideal Girl and Boy Brainy?

Boy Brainy was inspired by my own experience of school bullying. Ideal Girl from something I heard on the radio about how the ideal for a Girl is a dark haired Irish nurse.

Have you put yourself into the story? Do you identify with one of the characters?

No, absolutely not! I’m far too boring to be in a book. That’s why I read and write, it’s all escapism for me.

Does the bullying issue in Boy Brainy reflect an experience close to heart for you?

Yes. I think all adults can equate to being bullied at some time in their life. I’m not an expert, but I have seen the damage it can cause at first hand.

How about the romance in Ideal Girl – is this your medical experience talking? Are hospitals really like that?

I hope not! Nurses are far too busy looking after patients to have time to cavort with doctors. Someone compared the humour in my book to being like a Carry On movie, which I view as a great compliment. It’s my tongue in cheek look at an environment which is oftentimes very difficult to work in.

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Your adult novel is in a very different style from Boy Brainy – is it difficult for you as a writer to move from one genre to another? What are the pitfalls when changing from children’s writing to adult fiction?

I write them in different voices. With Boy Brainy I write in first person as an eleven year old boy – who wouldn’t want to be an eleven year old boy – all that mud and no housework!

My romances are in third person, I prefer this viewpoint as it gives me a much greater flexibility.

I also don’t write children’s and adult books simultaneously, which helps.

Are there any plans to bring out print editions?

No, not at present.

What is the overall impression you hope readers will take from your books?

That they’re funny, but not comedic. That they’re dark but not oppressive and finally for my medical romances – that they’re clean, or innocent if you like. If you enjoyed 50 shades you won’t like my work.

What’s next? Are you planning a sequel for each one?

Yes, the sequel to Ideal Girl will hopefully be out at Christmas and I’m half way through a sequel for Boy Brainy.

Thankyou, Jenny, and good luck with your future writing.

Jenny’s books are available here.